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Willow Shields
11:00 23rd September 2021

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If you combine space-age whirring guitar riffs, an unequivocally Liverpudlian legacy, then throw some Brit-pop into the mix, what do you get? We’ll tell you: you get Zuzu. Hers is the music that is emotionally vulnerable, funny and so relatable that you feel like you, too, have broken up with your partner at Christmastime - even though it's summer and you've been single for a million years. After getting thrown in at the deep end of the industry at a young age, Zuzu has cut her teeth, more times than one. She now has her feet firmly planted in the ground, and is leading up to the release of Queensway Tunnel, her debut album.

There is something so authentic about Zuzu and her tunes. Want to know where it all began? “I guess that the first moment that I thought I wanted to be an artist was probably when I saw

Blink-182 in concert. It was the first concert I've ever been to, and I loved music up until that point. I was already writing up bops in my head but when I saw it live I was like ‘oh, shit, people fucking (mimics playing guitar) I wanna do that!’ I feel like I've never been able to do anything else. I've just been obsessed with doing this forever. It chooses you.”

Everyone has that band, singer or artist that they listened to growing up that totally influenced who they became as an adult. For Zuzu, it was a mix of The Beatles, Arctic Monkeys and Taylor Swift. “I have a special needs sister and she is a huge music fan, she's older than me and she played music religiously growing up. She's obsessed with The Beatles, and that was the first music I ever really attached myself to, which is an obvious thing to say, if you're from Liverpool but it's the truth. I used to reference bands that I thought were really cool in the moment but actually looking back now I'm older, there are probably certain artists that actually were instrumental in shaping what I do. I think Arctic Monkeys are one of them, because he really - Alex Turner - made singing in your accent, a Northern accent, validated, you know? He made it cool. He definitely made me feel like I was cool for singing in my accent too. He was just so authentic. And that's what I really wanted to be like, I still want to be authentic. But I love Taylor Swift too and I was obsessed with Taylor Swift. I to this day, a Taylor Swift stan.”

After leaving Liverpool for Oxfordshire in her pre-teens, Zuzu also went full fan-girl for her hometown, desperately trying to cling to her Scouse roots. “I actually spent a lot of my teenage years going back to Liverpool as much as I could. I wasn't about being in Oxfordshire at the time, and I really hung on to my Liverpool roots. But ultimately, I think that that really helped me. I spent all my time in my bedroom just learning Taylor Swift songs and learning how to write songs. If I was in Liverpool living my best life with all my mates, I reckon I’d still be doing music but I’d probably be in a band and maybe focus more on the guitar. The Beatles, definitely, all that stuff - never left me. I've always thought of Liverpool, even at the time, in a more  romantic light than I would have if I was actually living there because I felt like I'd been dragged away and I just wanted to be home. I went through a stage when I was 18 of collecting every Beatles record in the world. I got some first test pressings for my birthday and stuff. I wasn't living in Liverpool at the time but I was fucking obsessed with the Beatles and just obsessed with the culture.”

Zuzu’s start in the music industry wasn't a smooth ride either. “I got caught up in the industry really young. I was 14. I got thrown in the deep end to be honest with you. My first gigs were fucking weird. I never put any music out until I was 19. I went five years just writing songs, and I never put anything out until later on because I just wasn't happy with it. I was being pulled left and right and at that time, I was just a kid. I was so scared to tell people what I really wanted to do.” 

After years of ruthlessly playing gigs (including becoming the first artist in the country to play to a crowd since the pandemic began at Sefton Park - “it was like jumping out of an aeroplane”) perfecting and releasing immaculate singles and a longer-than-most EP, Zuzu has finally announced she's releasing her debut album. Queensway Tunnel, landing in September, is named for “the Birkenhead tunnel under the Mersey that connects Liverpool to the Wirral.” As well as the album cover, a music video and single covers, it is also the location for the Gigwise photoshoot, which you can see on these pages. “It's a transitional place for me,” Zuzu says of the space. “We got to use it when it was closed, and it was the fucking best. I feel like it's a really iconic tunnel to anyone in Liverpool. And anyone who doesn't, that's fine: it's just a cool tunnel.”

Queensway Tunnel the album, Zuzu says, is “ultimately just about the ups and downs of being a human being, and being a fucking young person full of anxiety in a modern age. The record is about dealing with the fucking shit in your life. Each song is a different mood, from a different day, from a different point in my life. [And] I've been inspired by literally the shit around me. Shit I hear the neighbour saying over the fence, the man selling brollies in the market and there's just a lot of the new stuff is quite Scouse.” 

Queensway Tunnel was recorded in Zuzu’s home studio “because I've been in so many studios and so many settings, I get a bit anxious about it now” she says of more ‘official’ recording spaces. “I just feel most creative at home. Otherwise, I just get nervous about speaking out. If someone shuts me down once or twice then I get scared to suggest things. But  I don't get that at home, so for me it's just my safe place. I'm not my true self anywhere else.” 

Few deserve success more than Zuzu. In our interview, she notes that all she wants is to be authentic. And so she is: full of fire and Liverpudlian spirit, perfecting the art or vulnerability. From her rocky start being ruled by less creative people pushing her in wrong directions, to her finding herself and beginning to feel comfortable with her work again, to now, gearing up to release her debut album, not a lockdown album, not a bunch of unused singles, but a cohesive body of work built up through years of experience and sheer passion and creativity. 

Queensway Tunnel arrives 29 October via Planet Z Records.

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Photo: Jonny Nolan